Bosnia and Herzegovina + 4 more

CoE Parliamentary Assembly: Population displacement in South-Eastern Europe - trends, problems, solutions

Source
Posted
Originally published


Doc. 9519 revised
11 December 2002
Report
Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography
Rapporteur: Mrs Ans Zwerver, Netherlands, Socialist Group
Summary

There are still 1.2 million internally displaced persons and refugees seeking durable solutions in South-Eastern Europe. Some of them have been in this situation for over ten years now.

The last two years marked a significant improvement in the process of returns. During 2001 alone, more refugees and internally displaced persons were able to go home to areas controlled by opposing ethnic factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina than in any other time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995. This is seen as an indication that many of the legal, administrative and security obstacles have disappeared.

However, the poor economic situation and infrastructure in the areas of return, high unemployment rate and the lack of economic prospects are extremely discouraging factors for potential returnees. Sustainable return requires revitalisation of economies in return areas.

This recommendation calls for more international financial assistance and loans for projects in the field of returns and integration, as well as for the increased economic involvement and investment in the areas of return.

I. Draft recommendation

1. The Assembly refers to its Recommendation 1569 (2002) on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Recommendation 1510 (2001) on the humanitarian situation of returnees to Kosovo; Recommendation 1424 (1999) on the evaluation of the humanitarian situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, particularly in Kosovo and Montenegro; Recommendation 1406 (1999) on the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Croatia and Recommendation 1357 (1998) on Bosnia and Herzegovina: return of refugees and displaced persons.

2. The Assembly draws attention to the unresolved question of refugees and displaced persons in South-Eastern Europe. To date, the number of displaced persons (internally displaced and refugees) still seeking durable solutions in the region amounts to a total of 1.2 million people. Some of them have been in refugees for over ten years now.

3. The Assembly notes with satisfaction that the last two years marked a significant improvement of the situation. During 2001 alone, more refugees and internally displaced persons were able to go home to areas controlled by opposing ethnic factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina than at any other time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995. This is seen as an indication that many of the legal, administrative and security obstacles have disappeared.

4. The process of returns has now entered a crucial moment. The recent breakthrough may result in real success in terms of increased minority returns but it may also be slowed down or even stopped due to a number of existing obstacles.

5. The Assembly is aware that one of the main obstacles to returns is the poor economic situation in certain areas of return, and in particular the high unemployment rate. A lack of economic prospects is an extremely discouraging factor for the potential returnees.

6. However, other obstacles related to the housing, and in particular to the repossession of the property or tenancy rights by returnees, and a lack of alternative accommodation for those who illegally occupy others' houses still exist.

7. Both short term strategies like house reconstruction, property recovery, access to health care and education, food security, as well as long term strategies, in particular sustainable inter-ethnic integration via economic growth and political stability need to be assisted financially and socially by the international community.

8. Sustainable return requires revitalisation of the whole economy in the return area, and in particular creation of jobs and infrastructure. Increased international financial support should take the form of investment, loans and assistance.

9. The linkage between the process of "relief" and "development" cannot be lost. This is particularly important now, when donors' fatigue is visible and the fading down of humanitarian assistance coincides with increased returns.

10. The Assembly stresses that the return process in the region should be very carefully managed and refugees should be given the choice between return and local integration. In this respect, the Serb National Strategy for Resolving the Problems of Refugees may be considered as a model solution.

11. Unresolved internal political questions concerning the future status of the different entities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina should not impede the measures taken in order to improve the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons.

12. Cooperation between the governments in the area of returns is an essential factor, and the Assembly notes with satisfaction that it has improved. However, it needs to be further strengthened, in particular in the field of exchange of information, registration of refugees, transfer of allowances and pensions.

13. Therefore, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

i. urge the member states of the Council of Europe:

a. to encourage economic involvement and investment in the countries of the region;

b. to continue and develop a comprehensive economic strategy in the framework of the Stability Pact for South-East Europe;

c. to react positively by financing or granting loans to possible future projects elaborated by the countries of the region and relating to return or integration of refugees and displaced persons;

d. to promote and sponsor inter-ethnic reconciliation programmes and dialogue in the region;

e. to promote and encourage increased cooperation between the countries in the region;

ii. urge the authorities of Croatia:

a. to increase budgetary resources and actively seek other finances for the implementation of the law on reconstruction of damaged houses and construction of alternative accommodation;

b. to review the law on repossession of property with a view to ensuring that all former residents, including those who for reasons beyond their control do not possess Croatian citizenship, are entitled to benefit from it;

c. to ensure the financing of the implementation of the law on repossession;

d. to ensure alternative social accommodation for those refugees whose tenancy rights have expired but who wish to return;

e. to facilitate the procedures for confirmation of existing tenancy rights;

f. to increase the budgetary resources for the economic revitalisation and infrastructure of the underdeveloped return areas;

g. to ensure that there is no ethnic discrimination in the field of employment and other social policies;

h. to promote inter-ethnic dialogue by encouraging and sponsoring reconciliation programmes;

i. to encourage and promote the activities of non-governmental organisations active in the field of refugees and inter-ethnic reconciliation and increase their involvement in the elaboration and implementation of integration and return policies;

j. to increase cooperation with other countries in the region, in particular in the field of exchange of information, registration of refugees and transfer of pensions and allowances;

iii. urge the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

a. to increase budgetary resources and actively seek complementary financing for the implementation of recent laws on repossession of property;

b. to ensure careful consideration of every appeal by internally displaced persons evicted from illegally occupied houses and in justified cases provide them with alternative accommodation even if their own houses have been reconstructed, instead of forcing them to return to their places of origin;

c. to devote more budgetary resources and promote more actively economic revitalisation of underdeveloped areas of return;

d. to ensure the enforcement of the laws guaranteeing non-discriminatory employment and treatment;

e. to promote inter-ethnic dialogue by encouraging and sponsoring reconciliation programmes;

f. to promote reconciliation and tolerance in the field of education; in particular verify curriculum;

g. to encourage and promote the activities of non-governmental organisations active in the field of refugees and inter-ethnic reconciliation and increase their involvement in the elaboration and implementation of integration and return policies;

h. to increase cooperation with other countries in the region, in particular in the field of exchange of information, registration of refugees and transfer of pensions and allowances;

iv. urge the Serb, Montenegrin and Kosovo authorities:

a. to ensure the continuation of the elaboration and implementation of the National Strategy for Resolving the problems of Refugees, Expellees and Displaced Persons;

b. to elaborate long-term strategies in the entities where they have not been elaborated so far;

c. to actively seek financing for concrete projects relating to refugees and IDPs;

d. to promote inter-ethnic dialogue by encouraging and sponsoring reconciliation programmes;

e. to encourage and promote the activities of non-governmental organisations active in the field of refugees and inter-ethnic reconciliation and increase their involvement in the elaboration and implementation of integration and return policies;

f. to increase cooperation with other countries in the region, in particular in the field of exchange of information, registration of refugees and transfer of pensions and allowances;

v. urge the authorities of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia":

a. to actively seek international financing, investments and loans with a view to revitalise the economy in the areas of return;

b. to elaborate concrete projects relating to the return of refugees and seek international funding;

c. to promote inter-ethnic dialogue by encouraging and sponsoring reconciliation programmes;

d. to encourage and promote the activities of non-governmental organisations active in the field of refugees and inter-ethnic reconciliation and increase their involvement in the elaboration and implementation of integration and return policies;

e. to increase cooperation with other countries in the region, in particular in the field of exchange of information, registration of refugees and transfer of pensions and allowances.

14. The Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

a. ensure the continuation of the strong involvement and commitment of the Council of Europe in the process of the democratic reconstruction of a multi-ethnic society and for confidence building in the countries of the region;

b. foster the idea of closer cooperation between the international community and local non-governmental organisations in order to promote inter-ethnic dialogue and protect the rights of IDPs and refugees;

c. strengthen concrete reconciliation programmes in the field of culture and education, in particular relating to verification of curricula;

d. instruct its relevant committees to step up promotion of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

15. The Assembly calls on the Council of Europe Development Bank to step up its cooperation with the countries in the region with a view to financing projects regarding refugees and IDPs.

16. The Assembly invites the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to step up its programme for the twinning of municipalities in the regions which host refugees and IDPs or in the areas of returns with municipalities in other Council of Europe Member States.

II. Explanatory memorandum by Mrs Zwerver

1. Introduction

1. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has been following the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Balkans since the very beginning of the armed conflict in the region. In 1991 the Assembly adopted Order No. 466 which instructed it to "follow closely the situation of the populations displaced by the crisis, both within Yugoslavia and in the neighbouring countries, and to report back to it in due course." Since then the Committee has prepared a number of reports and recommendations on the subject, and its delegations have carried out numerous fact-finding visits to the region.

2. Among the most recent texts adopted by the Assembly one should mention Recommendation 1569 (2002) on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Recommendation 1510 (2001) on the humanitarian situation of returnees to Kosovo, Recommendation 1424 (1999) on the evaluation of the humanitarian situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, particularly in Kosovo and Montenegro; Recommendation 1406 (1999) on the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Croatia and Recommendation 1357 (1998) on Bosnia and Herzegovina: return of refugees and displaced persons.

3. The present report stems from a Motion for a recommendation tabled by Mrs Zwerver and others in January 2001. It takes account of the rapporteur's visit to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 2-6 April 2002 (see Programme in Appendix). Moreover it is based on the updated information received from different sources including international and national governmental and non-governmental organisations. The Rapporteur would like to express her gratitude to all those who have contributed to the organisation of her visit, and in particular to the parliamentary delegations of the countries concerned as well as UNHCR.

4. The Committee has just finalised its work on the preparation of another report closely related to the subject, namely on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Rapporteur: Mr Cilevičs, Latvia, SOC). In order to avoid repetition the rapporteurs have agreed on the content of both reports. This report will concentrate on repatriation of refugees and cooperation between the countries in the region. Internal displacement in particular will be examined insofar as it affects the general humanitarian situation.

5. The situation of refugees and displaced persons in different countries of the region has also been examined in the framework of the accession procedure, and now is the subject of the monitoring procedures.[1]

6. The Rapporteur is aware of the political developments taking place in the region, in particular of the process aimed at defining the political status of different entities within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia but she deliberately has tried to abstract from political considerations whenever possible and concentrate on the humanitarian situation and practical solutions aimed to improve it.

2. General overview of the situation

7. The break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991 opened a decade of massive forced population movements both between and within the newly independent states. Following the armed conflicts and a cycle of ethnic tensions and violence, sparked by a web of political manipulation, a total of over three million people have been uprooted from their homes.

8. Between 1992 and 1995, fighting in the northern part of the region (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia) displaced over two million people. To date, there are still over 900,000 persons displaced from this conflict.

9. In 1999, another wave of displacement took place when nearly one million people fled or were forcibly evicted from Kosovo. Over 250 000 remain displaced from that conflict up to now.

10. Most recently, in 2000, new displacement took place in southern Serbia (some 20 000 people) and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (over 140 000 people). To date, over 30,000 persons from "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and 10,000 persons from southern Serbia have not been able to go back to their homes.

11. According to estimates, the number of displaced persons (IDPs and refugees) still seeking durable solutions in the region amounted to a total of 1.2 million people as of January 2002.

12. An important number of people has left the region and has been granted different kinds of protection in third countries, mainly Western Europe, the United States and Canada. Many of them have already returned, others are facing repatriation, a certain number has settled down. The present report is concerned with this category only in respect to the creation of adequate conditions for return to their countries of origin.

a. Croatia

13. Croatia' independence in June 1991 was rapidly followed by armed conflicts and population displacement on a large-scale which affected up to 15 percent of the country's 4 million population in 1992. Following the Serb secession in eastern and western Slavonia (the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina), about 220,000 ethnic Croats fled to seek safe living conditions elsewhere in the country. At the same time, Croatia was facing the influx of about 350,000 ethnic Croat refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The recapture of most of the lost territories by Croatia's armed forces during the "Flash" and "Storm" military operations in 1995 provoked the flight of more than 300,000 ethnic Serbs from these areas. They fled mainly to Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

14. At present, there are still 19,000 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and 1,400 refugees from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (mainly Kosovo). The Croatian authorities during the visit stressed that the above figures did not include the people who have never registered as refugees or who have given up their refugee status in order to obtain Croatian citizenship. This applies for example to approximately 120,000 people originating from Republika Srpska or to several dozen thousands Croats from Kosovo. Their integration imposes an important burden on the budget. Finally, there are approximately 25,000 IDPs.

15. Nearly 5,000 people stay in collective centres, dependent on humanitarian assistance. The majority of them belong to vulnerable categories (elderly, handicapped, single mothers and children). The others live in private accommodation or occupy empty houses waiting for alternative accommodation and in the meantime preventing the legitimate owners - refugees in neighbouring countries - from return. According to the Government, approximately 7,800 houses or apartments are illegally occupied.

16. At the same time a number of Croat refugees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia amounts to 245,800 people (only 68,000 express their wish to return). In Bosnia and Herzegovina there are 25-30,000 refugees from Croatia, mainly Serbs who currently occupy the houses of the Bosnian Croats in Republika Srpska.

b. Bosnia and Herzegovina

17. The conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina erupted in 1992 and gave rise to the movement of approximately 2.2 million persons of the country's pre-war population of 4.3 million. Out of this figure, some 1 million people were displaced within the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whereas over 1.2 million persons have found refugee in 25 host states. About 580,000 have stayed in Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

18. The ethnic Serb extremists implemented a policy of ethnic cleansing, with the objective of creating a territorial continuity between Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia for they refused to cohabitate with other ethnic groups in their newly independent country. During the conflict humanitarian law was breached on a large scale which resulted in expulsion of civilian population, indiscriminate attacks, and mass murders.

19. At present, the country is divided into two ethnic entities, the Bosniak and Croat dominated Federation, and the Serb controlled "Republika Srpska". The return of the displaced to areas where they would no longer be part of the ethnic majority has been the main challenge since the end of the armed conflict.

20. 470,500 people remain displaced. Moreover, there are approximately 45,000 refugees from Croatia, mainly Serbs who are staying in Republika Srpska and illegally occupy the houses of Bosniak Croats, refugees in Croatia. There are also 9,500 refugees from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, mainly from Kosovo.

21. Currently there are 143,500 refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and 19,000 in Croatia.

c. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

22. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had experienced refugee influxes, coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. Since 1998, the country has been hit also by several crises of internal displacement in Kosovo (1998-1999) and in Southern Serbia (2000-2001), followed by a refugee influx from Macedonia (2001)[2].

23. As of February 2002, there were 377,431 registered refugees in Serbia, 14,400 in Montenegro and 14,000 in Kosovo. Further to that there were 197 700 internally displaced persons in Serbia, 32,200 IDPs in Montenegro and about 36,000 IDPs in Kosovo. The total number of refugees and IDPs amounts to nearly 700,000 persons which makes up nearly 10% of the population as a whole and makes Yugoslavia the country with the biggest per capita refugee and displaced person burden in Europe.

24. Refugees currently residing in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia originate mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina (143,500), and from Croatia (245,000).

25. Over 36,000 refugees and displaced persons are accommodated in collective centres in Serbia. Out of that number, 30,000 persons are accommodated in registered collective centres and 6,000 in so-called unrecognised centres with no assistance from the state authorities.

26. Living conditions in collective centres differ from one place to another but in general they tend to be unsatisfactory, overcrowded with poor access to clean water and sanitary services.

27. Living conditions for displaced Roma in Serbia and Montenegro are particularly difficult. Local authorities are often reluctant to accept them and they are confronted with a pattern of subtle discrimination in the entire region.

d. "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

28. Internal displacement has only been a recent problem in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Before January 2001, it was virtually non-existent. People became displaced persons as a result of an armed conflict between the Macedonian ethnic Albanian group and the National Liberation Army (NLA) that was fighting for the rights of Albanians within Macedonia. The war resulted in 22,000 IDPs. Most of them returned home by April 2001. When the situation worsened in May and during the following months of 2001, 70,000 persons were registered as internally displaced, out of whom, 60% were ethnic Macedonians. As of February 2002, 21,200 persons were registered as internally displaced in Macedonia.

29. There are 5,700 refugees from Kosovo who stay in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". The number of registered refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia does not exceed 100.

30. There are approximately 20,000 Macedonian refugees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (6000 in Serbia and Montenegro and 14,000 in Kosovo).

3. Prospects for durable solutions

31. An estimated 2 million people have gone back to their countries and homes following peace agreements related to the conflicts in the region. However, the legacy of the fighting has left its impact on ethnic minority communities. Most of the 1.2 million persons who are still displaced in the region come from areas where they are, or used to be, an ethnic minority.

32. For some time after the peace agreements were signed, a lot of them were unable to return for security reasons, or due to the lack of freedom of movement and access to goods and services. Those minorities who have managed to return often have been facing different forms of discrimination and harassment making their reintegration very difficult. Continued ethnic tensions, political obstruction by hard-line nationalist leaders, economic stagnation resulting from the conflicts which have ravaged the region have added up to a long list of difficulties.

33. However, the last two years marked a significant improvement of the situation. During 2001 alone, more refugees and internally displaced persons were able to go home to areas controlled by opposing ethnic factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia than at any other time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995.

34. According to the UNHCR survey on return summary, the total number of returnees is 435 510 persons, among which there are 266,548 Bosniaks, 35,520 Croatians and 131,607 Serbs. A breakthrough in return movements since 2000 has only been made possible thanks to the efforts and pressure of the international community. The updated UNHCR survey on minority returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that 204,489 persons returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1 January 1999 to 31 January 2002.

35. Members of minority communities have been returning to extremely difficult areas, such as Srebrenica and Foca. This is seen as an indication that many of the legal, administrative and security obstacles have disappeared.

36. However, the overall objective in South-Eastern Europe is to search for durable solutions for the remaining 1.2 million refugees and IDPs. Among three possible solutions: repatriation, local integration and resettlement, every one has specific problems related to it.

37. Financial and political support is essential. Bosnia, Croatia, Yugoslavia and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" should be granted access to international lending and credit facilities. Private investment, particularly in the housing sector should be encouraged.

a. Croatia

38. The legal framework regulating the return to Croatia is based on internal legislation and bilateral agreements between Croatia and other countries concerned.

39. To date the results are not satisfactory. In the period 1996-2001 only approximately 50,000 people returned from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Thus the number of refugees in FRY from Croatia has been reduced from 297,000 to 245,800 i.e. by 17% only.

40. Approximately 25-30,000 Croatian Serbs are still in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the number of those who have returned has not exceeded 4-5,000 people.

41. Over 70,000 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the FRY are registered as wishing to return, and awaiting repatriation.

42. All the Rapporteur's interlocutors representing the Croat authorities stressed that the question of return is not a political question anymore. The major obstacle for returns is the shortage of budgetary resources for reconstruction of housing and construction of alternative accommodation.

43. The Parliament has recently adopted relevant laws. According to the law on reconstruction, applications for reconstruction of damaged houses should have been filed by the end of 2001, and the authorities had received 40,000 applications. The Government is now looking for ways of financing.

44. Repossession of property is another problem. According to the authorities, approximately 8,500 houses and apartments are occupied illegally, mainly by refugees of Croat origins from Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The law on repossession obliges the Government to find temporary accommodation for all illegal occupants and return the property by the end of 2002.

45. Another issue raised by the authorities concerned is the poor economic situation in certain areas of return and the need for revitalisation of the economy especially in war damaged areas. Average unemployment rate in the country amounts to 24% but it is as high as 60% in some areas. In Osijek it reaches 90%. A lack of economic prospects is an extremely discouraging factor for the potential returnees.

46. Many interlocutors stressed that the war-affected areas had always been underdeveloped and poorly populated. Mines are still a problem. They underlined that both Croats and returnees bear the consequences of the bad economic situation to the same degree. Also poor social infrastructure, in particular health care and educational facilities, add to the problem.

47. The representatives of international organisations and national non-governmental organisations met by the Rapporteur confirmed that the main obstacles for return to Croatia were related to repossession of the property or tenancy rights, where they still exist, and where they no longer do, the availability of other alternative accommodation. The existing procedures for return of property do not allow returnees - legal owners - to repossess their property before the temporary occupants are provided with alternative accommodation.

48. Also the question of confirmation of existing tenancy rights is sometimes problematic and requires lengthy procedures. The authorities, asked on this issue, explained that some cadastral and land ownership books had been destroyed or taken to Belgrade.

49. Some 50,000 - 60,000 tenants have lost their rights due to implementation of new laws, and new tenants have started, and in many cases completed, the procedure of buying apartments. The Croat authorities do not recognize this as a problem. Those who have lost their tenancy rights may always - if they so wish - apply for social tenancy. However, due to the lack of budgetary resources there are obviously dramatic shortages of social housing. The Croat authorities see the solution of the problem in the short term as foreign loans, investment and financial assistance.

50. Until 2002 IDPs and refugees who failed to regulate their citizenship status encountered some difficulties when benefiting from the repossession procedures. This was changed by the amended law on the Areas of Special Concern in August 2002. Since then, the status is irrelevant in the repossession context.

51. This is becoming a very urgent problem because following the recent implementation of property laws in Bosnia and Herzegovina more and more Croatian Bosniaks are returning after being expelled from illegally occupied houses, particularly in the area of Drva.

52. The return to Croatia of Croatian Serbs currently displaced in the Republika Srpska would free up the space needed for the return of Bosniaks and Croat displaced in Bosnia.

53. The authorities have expressed their satisfaction at the cooperation with the Council of Europe Development Bank which has so far granted several loans related to the return process. A further loan concerning social housing is currently under negotiation.

54. Another obstacle for return which is not at all recognized by the Croat authorities relates to legal security of potential returnees. The UNHCR reported in 2002 that posters accusing the ethnic Serbs of war crimes were disseminated and their properties were often destroyed. Some hasty arrests on the basis of unconfirmed accusations have been reported. UNHCR has been following all reported cases.

55. However, the security of returns has improved significantly over the last year. Only a small number of the returnees have felt endangered since their return, according to an UNHCR survey carried out in January 2001. In order to facilitate Croatia's admission into Euro-Atlantic structures the new government has responded constructively to recommendations of the international community regarding human rights or the cooperation with the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

56. International organisations and non-governmental organisations reported the problem of discrimination in the field of employment and education policies. For example Serb workers in the Danube region are reportedly discriminated in favour of ethnic Croat returnees. Although the authorities reject these accusations, inter-ethnic signs of discrimination seem to have remained to a significant extent.

57. The Rapporteur has remarked the lack of government-led initiatives which would facilitate inter- ethnic relations among children; returnee children living in isolated areas in Croatia must travel long distances to the nearest school or they do not attend it at all.

58. Mines spread all over the country pose a serious threat to the potential returnees. It may take 10 years to demine the entire country which comprises 400,000 to one million mines. Funding of this issue has remained poor and problematic. According to the 2001 UNHCR estimations Croatia belongs to the most heavily minded countries in the world.

59. Returnees get assistance from UNHCR in the framework of the programme for return. This includes logistical aid, travel documents, aid to repatriate the belongings (convoys), information, tentative visits.

60. Returnees in Croatia are entitled to 6 months welfare package including social benefits, free health care, and in some justified case humanitarian assistance. After that they may apply for social welfare which requires however a lengthy and complicated procedure. International organisations and non-governmental organisations agree that the transitional assistance system should be improved.

61. Returnees also receive free legal assistance from international organisations. The Rapporteur got acquainted with so called mobile legal aid provided by UNHCR in the area of Knin.

62. The authorities drew the Rapporteur's attention to the fact that some refugees return in order to benefit from certain social rights, repossess their property, sell it and go back to the neighbouring countries. This was confirmed by representatives of international organisations.

b. Bosnia and Herzegovina

63. The conditions for return of refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina are different from those in Croatia. The presence of the international community has helped create more favourable legal conditions and attracted more donors to finance return projects. It resulted in the reduction of Bosnia and Herzegovina refugees by 43% in the past five years.

64. Also internal displacement between the two entities has decreased.

65. While there are still individual obstacles created by some local authorities, in particular in Republika Srpska, the process of return of property and occupancy rights has passed the critical point.

66. A real breakthrough was noted in 2000 following the adoption and implementation of new laws on repossession of property. In close cooperation with UNHCR and OSCE, the authorities have registered 262,000 claims for repossession throughout the country. By the time of the Rapporteur's visit in April 2002, as many as 111,000 (43%) claims had been solved, mainly in the Federation.

67. Funding of course is a standing problem, and people evicted from illegally occupied houses or apartments complain that alternative accommodation offered to them does not meet basic living standards.

68. Those whose houses have been reconstructed or emptied feel forced to go back as no other option is offered to them. The Rapporteur met in Sarajevo a group of women from Srebrnica, widows and single mothers facing repatriation to their houses in the Republika Srpska, in minority rural areas. For the time being they were illegally occupying apartments of Bosniak Croats awaiting repatriation from Croatia. Some of them, particularly young women with children, seemed to be horrified at the idea of return but they had no choice. Only particularly difficult social cases could hope to get alternative accommodation in Sarajevo.

69. And yet the tensions within and between the two ethnic entities of the country, the Bosniak and Croat dominated Federation and the Serb controlled "Republika Srpska", are still a serious obstacle to the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin.

70. In particular, the eastern part of the Republika Srpska (Zvornik, Srebrenica, Vyshehrad, Bratunac) have noted an extremely low rate of returns. So-called multi-ethnicity exists mainly in towns but not in rural areas.

71. Poor economic prospects in certain areas is another problem. The authorities claim that the war has accelerated the natural process of urbanization. Many internally displaced persons would rather stay in towns than return to rural areas with no economic prospects and little chance for employment.

72. Non-discriminatory employment is still a goal to be achieved. The non-governmental organisations suggested that investors from abroad might put certain conditions on transparency of employment.

73. The UNHCR "funding follows return" programme (dependency on humanitarian aid during accommodation's reconstruction) was launched in 2000 in order to encourage displaced persons to return to their pre-war homes. Thanks to the Stability Pact the question of returns has stayed on the international agenda and the decline in funding has not been too sharp.

74. Many potential returnees, in particular displaced women, stress that they consider the arrests and trials of those suspected of having committed war crimes and other human rights violations during the war as an absolute precondition for their return. Yet according to the information gathered from international organisations, security is not a problem anymore.

75. The presence of mined areas further undermines the sustainability of returns as it limits the ability of returnees to work on their land.

76. Educational infrastructure is also very unsatisfactory. Most of the local schools were destroyed. Often the nearest school is distant, either back in the returnee's majority area, or controlled by the majority ethnic group and teaching a version of history or religion unacceptable to the returnee. As a result, numerous instances have occurred where refugees have returned to their pre-war homes and then left, unable to sustain themselves. In the field of education and tolerance much has to be done and the Council of Europe should contribute. Curriculum has to be verified.

77. The authorities in Republika Srpska make additional obstruction by requiring fees or numerous difficulties to obtain documents and imposing lengthy procedures. The ongoing political situation in the RS does not help in improving IDPs protection policy and it does not affect positively activities of the Bosnian authorities aiming at addressing the above-mentioned issues.

78. A separate very dramatic problem concerns the Roma community subjected to different forms of more or less transparent discrimination. Lack of official property rights excludes the Roma Community from assistance schemes, the most complex is the situation of the Bosnian Roma who are ruled out because before the war they lived in houses which were build on state owned land.

79. According to UNHCR, the main stream of the return process should be completed by the end of 2003. The right to return will of course be valid after that date too, but probably those who will not decide to return by that time, will opt for local integration.

c. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

80. According to the agreement with Mr Cilevičs, Rapporteur on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the present report in this part will concentrate on refugees wishing to return to their countries of origin. The solutions for the internally displaced persons, as well as for those refugees who opt for the local integration are closely examined in Mr Cilevičs's report (Doc. 9479).

81. The survey conducted by UNHCR has shown that approximately 60% of refugees have opted for local integration. The others have registered as potential returnees.

82. Regrettably, the uncertainty over the future political status of the country and its three entities impedes to a certain extent the implementation of long-term solutions, as well as consistent and efficient co-operation at the regional level.

83. Since the election of Volislav Kostunica as the president of the Federal Republic in October 2000 and the victory of democratic forces in the Serbian parliamentary election three months later, the relations between countries in the region have considerably improved and resulted in an increased numbers of returns.

84. As for the return of refugees and displaced persons to Kososo, security concerns remain the primary factor. The question is examined more closely in Mr Cilevičs's report.

85. According to UNHCR statistics, 60,000 refugees have returned to Croatia. However, out of this figure, 30,000 reappeared again in Serbia as refugees. This phenomenon obviously raises the question of sustainability of returns. On the other hand, as living costs are lower in the FRY as compared to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, some refugees, in particular pensioners prefer to live in Yugoslavia on their pensions received from their countries of origin. Similarly, many young people, as already mentioned above, return to their countries in order to sell property, and subsequently they settle down in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, not always giving up their refugee status.

86. However, there is still an urgent need for more efficient cooperation between the countries in the region, in particular in the field of exchange of information on registration and de-registration, transfer of pensions, allowances etc.

87. The contribution of the international community present in Yugoslavia should be underlined: great effort in the field of promotion of returns, information, legal logistic and material assistance have been accomplished.

d. "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

88. Despite the political breakthrough, full-scale return has been inhibited because of the instable security situation and the damaged infrastructure and houses in the home villages. It impeded the promotion of a safe return of the displaced population.

89. The financial question remains the main obstacle to returns. The Macedonian economy is unable to face additional burden of reconstruction and revitalisation of the economy in return areas.

90. The country needs investments, loans and development assistance.

4. Contribution of the international community

91. The focus of the international community has moved from addressing humanitarian assistance to long-term development needs. This resulted in tightening the criteria for assistance. As of February 2002 solely a small number of beneficiaries in the region was being targeted.

92. The 1999 Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe[3] was created to incite and stimulate a regional dynamic cooperation among the governments in the Balkans and donors towards the return of refugees and displaced persons. Following the democratic changes which took place in Croatia and in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during 2000, the Stability Pact was a vehicle for an agreement on regional return, the "Agenda for Regional Action" (AREA) between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which was signed in June 2001.

93. Common initiatives such as The Property Law Implementation Plan (PLIP) which is monitored by the OSCE and UNHCR, UNMBIH-IPTF Human Rights, a UNCHR Working Group with OHR in terms of asylum and immigration support policy, the Return Application Database System (RADS) gives the possibility to improve information concerning return and integration.

94. UNHCR has been present in the region throughout the whole decade. Once the hostilities ended, a continuous action and a number of initiatives like the 1997 Sarajevo Declaration, UNHCR Country Team Agencies, Open Cities Initiative (1997) have facilitated minority group returns and its cantonal return plans, the repossession of tenancy rights initiatives.

95. The European Union, besides political and financial support for returns has greatly contributed to the return process through its Refugee and Reconstruction Task Force.

96. The close cooperation between the International Police Task Force (IPTF) and the Republika Srpska police force, as well as the increasingly active role of SFOR in the return process is highly worth mentioning.

97. Activities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) aiming at the promotion of democracy and human rights are also highly appreciated.

98. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), whose primary task was to focus on returnees to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, envisage asylum policy and resettlement programmes in the region.

99. The Council of Europe monitoring and reporting initiatives have brought along greater awareness of the IDPs issue in the Balkans.

100. The Council of Europe's Congress of Local Authorities in Europe (CLRAE) initiative Association of Local democracy agencies supported by the Swiss Agency for development has been promoting practices consolidating democracies, respect for human rights and organise training of local elected representatives in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

101. The Council of Europe Development Bank has been contributing greatly to return projects in the region.

5. Conclusions and recommendations

102. In the Rapporteur's opinion the process of return has now entered a crucial moment, and the report seems to be very timely. The recent breakthrough in returns may result in real success in terms of minority returns, and consequently, the establishment of multiethnic societies. But it may also be slowed down or even stopped due to the lack of funding and unfavourable economic factors.

103. Both short term strategies like house reconstruction, property recovery, access to health care and education, food security, and long-term strategies, namely sustainable inter-ethnic integration via economic growth and political stability need to be assisted financially and socially by the international community.

104. Sustainable return requires the revitalisation of the whole economy in the return area, and in particular creation of jobs and infrastructure. Increased international financial support should take the form of investment, loans, and assistance.

105. The linkage between the processes of "relief" and "development" cannot be lost. This is particularly important now, when donors' fatigue is visible and fading down of humanitarian assistance coincides with increased returns.

106. If the region is not stabilized economically it seems highly probable that potential returnees will opt for going to the western countries as illegal migrants.

107. Yet the return process in the region should be very carefully managed and refugees should be given the choice between return and local integration. In this respect, the Serb National Strategy for Resolving the Problems of Refugees may be considered as a model solution.

108. Unresolved internal political questions in BH (two entities which in practice are two states in one country) and in Yugoslavia (three entities whose political status is not defined) should not impede the measures taken in order to resolve the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons.

109. Cooperation in the area of returns between the countries of the region should be strengthened and made more efficient. Exchange of information, particularly on registration of refugees, transfer of allowances and pensions should be considerably improved.

110. The Council of Europe should foster more energetically the idea of closer cooperation of international community with local non-governmental organisations in order to protect IDPs' rights, in particular its efforts in the integration process in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia between the local population and the Roma community should be strengthened.

111. The Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatian, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" authorities should more efficiently promote an inter-ethnic dialogue.

112. The Council of Europe should strengthen its work on promotion of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

113. The Parliamentary Assembly should call on the Council of Europe Development Bank to speed up its cooperation with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

114. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe should be invited to step up its programme for the twinning of municipalities in the South-Eastern European regions inhabited by IDPs and refugees with municipalities of the Council of Europe Member states.

APPENDIX

Programme for the visit by Mrs Zwerver

Monday, 1 April 2002
Arrival in Zagreb: Mrs Zwerver: 13.40 flight OU 451 from Amsterdam
Mrs Nachilo: 22.05 flight LH 2480 from Frankfurt
Overnight Zagreb, Hotel Esplanade
Tuesday, 2 April 2002
Morning Meetings in Zagreb
Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Office for displaced persons and Refugees
Meetings in Parliament
Noon Departure for Knin
Field visits on the way
Arrival in Knin
Meetings in Knin
Overnight Motel Mihovil
Wednesday, 3 April 2002
Morning Departure from Knin to Bugojno
Field visits
Arrival in Sarajevo
Meetings in Sarajevo
UNHCR
NGOs concerned with refugees and displaced persons
Overnight Sarajevo, Hotel Europe-Garni
Thursday, 4 April 2002
Morning Meetings in Sarajevo
Meeting in the Parliament
Association of refugees and displaced persons
Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees
Visit to Vogosca (area with refugees from Srebrenica)
01.30 pm Departure for Belgrade
Field visits
Evening Arrival in Belgrade
Overnight Belgrade
Friday, 5 April 2002
Meetings in Belgrade
UNHCR
Helsinki Human Rights Association
Meeting in the Parliament
Commissioner for Refugees of the Republic of Serbia
Federal Ministry for Labour, Health and Social Affairs
Overnight Belgrade
Saturday, 6 April 2002
Field visits to collective centres
Departure from Belgrade

Reporting committee: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography.

Reference to committee: Doc. 8936, Reference No. 2568 of 26 January 2001.

Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 25 June 2002.

Members of the committee: Mr Iwiński (Chairperson), Mr Einarsson (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Vermot-Mangold (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Busić (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Akhvlediani, Aliyev G. (alternate: Ibrahimov), Mrs van Ardenne-van der Hoeven, MM. de Arístegui, Arzilli, Bernik, Mrs Björnemalm, MM. Van den Brande, Branger, Braun, Brînzan, Brunhart, Christodoulides, Cilevičs, Connor, Danieli, Debarge, Dedja, Díaz de Mera (alternate: Fernández Aguilar), Dmitrijevas, Ehrmann, Mrs Err, Mrs Fehr, Mrs Frimannsdóttir, MM. Grzesik (alternate: Gadzinowski), Grzyb, Hancock, Hordies, Hovhannisyan, Ilaşcu, Ivanov, Jařab, Lord Judd, MM. Karpov, Kirilov, Kolb, Kósáné-Kovács, Koulouris, Kulikov (alternate: Nazarov), Kvakkestad (alternate: Akselsen), Laakso, Le Guen, Liapis, Mrs Lörcher, M. Loutfi, Mrs Markovska, MM. Matviychuk, Mutman, Naro, Nessa, Mrs Onur, MM. Ouzký, Popa, Prijmireanu, Pullicino Orlando, Rakhansky, Sağlam, von Schmude, Schweitzer, Mrs Shakhtakhtinskaya, MM. Slutsky (alternate: Fedorov), Soendergaard, Mrs Stoisits, MM. Telek, Tkáč, Tosić, Vera Jardim, Wilkinson, Wray, Yáñez-Barnuevo, Zavgayev (alternate: Tulaev), Zhirinovsky, Mrs de Zulueta, Mrs Zwerver.

N.B. The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo, Ms Sirtori.

[1] See Docs 7371, 7402, 7403 and Opinion n° 191 (1995): "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". Docs 7510, 7533, 7534 and Opinion n° 195 (1996): Croatia. Docs 9287, 9288 and Opinion n° 234 (2002): Bosnia and Herzegovina.

[2]See the report on the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Doc. 9479) (Rapporteur: Mr Cilevics, Latvia, SOC).

[3] The Stability Pact partners: UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, UNHCR, NATO, OECD, The European Union Member States and the European Commission, non EU-members of the G8: USA, Canada, Japan and Russia , other countries: Norway and Switzerland, The countries of the region and their neighbours: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Moldova , International financial institutions. Regional initiatives: Black Sea Economic Co-operation (BSEC), Central European Initiative (CEI), South East European Co-operative Initiative (SECI) and South East Europe Co-operation Process (SEECP): www.stabilitypact.org.